File photoGeorge Pitsikoulis, Canadawide Inc. George Pitsikoulis is on the phone from a family holiday in Greece. Rather than relaxing and enjoying the view of the Aegean Sea, the president of one of Montreal’s largest wholesale companies is driving around idyllic Mykonos searching for a gym.
The soft-spoken president of Canadawide Inc. grew up in his father’s fruit and vegetable stores.
“I have been handling, buying and selling fresh produce ever since I can remember,” he said.
His parents — who watched proudly as their middle son gave his final speech as president of the Quebec Produce Marketing Association at its annual convention in August — emigrated from Greece in 1960.
Within a year, they had met, married and opened the first of some 25 Montreal stores.
George, 47, followed a similar path. In 1987, he graduated from Concordia University with a bachelor’s degree in economics, married his high-school sweetheart Roula Spanos and began working full time at Canadawide.
“I didn’t want to continue in my father’s footsteps, mainly because I never saw him, but by then he had sold off the stores to focus on wholesale, and the new challenge grabbed my interest,” Pitsikoulis said.
When the family bought out their partners in 2003, George became president and chief executive officer. Canadawide now has more than 170 employees.
His father John, 76, a pioneer in carrying a wide variety of produce of different levels to satisfy his retail customers, still visits the warehouse daily at 2 a.m.
“My father taught me integrity, to be true to my word and to respect my agreements,” Pitsikoulis said.
When asked about his leadership style, he said he leads by example.
“My brothers Mike, Nick and I, along with a number of close company associates, have always been fully involved in the trenches and day-to-day dealings with customers, suppliers and coworkers.”
Over the past 15 years, Pat Calabretta is one of the many colleagues, suppliers and customers who have become as close as family.
“When I drop by on a Saturday, George is always there talking to customers,” said Calabretta, senior director of merchandising and purchasing for Sobeys Quebec.
“George is an expert in what he does, and stands up for what he believes in,” Calabretta said.
“He cares for business and for people, and I respect him enormously.”
Despite the size of their growing business, Pitsikoulis remains involved with QPMA and the Fresh Produce Alliance. Canadawide has organized fundraising drives for disaster relief from Haiti to Pakistan.
“Above all, we’re proud to be selling health to the customer,” Pitsikoulis said.